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Dante's Inferno
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Canto XV

Third round of the Seventh Circle: of those who have done violence to Nature.—Brunetto Latini.—Prophecies of misfortune to Dante.

Now one of the hard margins bears us on, and the fume of the brook overshadows so that it saves the water and the banks from the fire. As the Flemings, between Wissant and Bruges, fearing the flood that is blown in upon them, make the dyke whereby the sea is routed; and as the Paduans along the Brenta, in order to defend their towns and castles, ere Chiarentana[1] feel the heat,—in such like were these made, though neither so high nor so thick had the master, whoever he was, made them.

[1] The mountain range north of the Brenta, by the floods from which the river is swollen in the spring.

We were now so remote from the wood that I could not have seen where it was though I had turned me round to look, when we encountered a troop of souls which was coming along by the bank, and each of them was looking at us, as at eve one is wont to look at another under the new moon, and they so sharpened their brows toward us as the old tailor does on the needle's eye.

Thus gazed at by that company, I was recognized by one who took me by the hem, and cried out, "What a marvel!" And when he stretched out his arm to me, I fixed my eyes on his baked aspect so that his scorched visage prevented not my mind from recognizing him; and bending down my own to his face, I answered, "Are you here, Sir Brunetto?"[1] And he, "O my son, let it not displease thee if Brunetto Latini turn a little back with thee, and let the train go on." I said to him, "With all my power I pray this of you, and if you will that I seat myself with you I will do so, if it pleaseth this one, for I go with him." "O son," said he, "whoever of this herd stops for an instant lies then a hundred years without fanning himself when the fire smites him; therefore go onward, I will come at thy skirts, and then I will rejoin my band which goeth weeping its eternal sufferings."

[1] Brunetto Latini, one of the most learned and able Florentines of the thirteenth century. He was banished with the other chiefs of the Guelph party, after the battle of Montaperti, in 1260, and went to France, where he resided for many years. After his return to Florence he became Secretary of the Commune, and he was the master of Dante and Guido Cavalcanti. His principal literary work was Li Livres dou Tresor, written in French, an interesting compend of the omne scibile. He died in 1290. Dante uses the plural "you" in addressing him, as a sign of respect.

I dared not descend from the road to go level with him, but I held my head bowed like one who goes reverently. He began, "What fortune, or destiny, ere the last day, brings thee down here? and who is this that shows the road?"

"There above, in the clear life," I answered him, "I lost myself in a valley, before my time was full. Only yester morn I turned my back on it; this one[1] appeared to me as I was returning to it, and he is leading me homeward along this path."

[1] Dante never speaks Virgil's name in Hell.

And he to me: "If thou follow thy star, thou canst not miss the glorious port, if, in the beautiful life, I discerned aright. And if I had not so untimely died, seeing heaven so benignant unto thee I would have given cheer unto thy work. But that ungrateful populace malign which descended from Fiesole of old,[1] and smacks yet of the mountain and the rock, will hate thee because of thy good deeds; and this is right, for among the bitter sorb trees it is not fitting the sweet fig should bear fruit. Old report in the world calls them blind; it is a people avaricious, envious, and proud; from their customs take heed that thou keep thyself clean. Thy fortune reserves such honor for thee that one party and the other shall hunger for thee; but far from the goat shall be the grass. Let the Fiesolan beasts make litter of themselves, and touch not the plant, if any spring still upon their dungheap, in which may live again the holy seed of those Romans who remained there when it became the nest of so much malice."

[1] After his flight from Rome Catiline betook himself to Faesulae (Fiesole), and here for a time held out against the Roman forces. The popular tradition ran that, after his defeat, Faesulae was destroyed, and its people, together with a colony from Rome, made a settlement on the banks of the Arno, below the mountain on which Faesulae had stood. The new town was named Fiora, siccome fosse in fiore edificata, "as though built among flowers," but afterwards was called Fiorenza, or Florence. See G. Villani, Cronica, I. xxxi.-xxxviii.

"If all my entreaty were fulfilled," replied I to him, "you would not yet be placed in banishment from human nature; for in my mind is fixed, and now fills my heart, the dear, good, paternal image of you, when in the world hour by hour you taught me how man makes himself eternal and in what gratitude I hold it, so long as I live, it behoves that on my tongue should be discerned. That which you tell me of my course I write, and reserve it to be glossed with other text,[1] by a Lady, who will know how, if I attain to her. Thus much would I have manifest to you: if only that my conscience chide me not, for Fortune, as she will, I am ready. Such earnest is not strange unto my ears; therefore let Fortune turn her wheel as pleases her, and the churl his mattock."[2]

[1] The prophecy by Ciacco of the fall of Dante's party, Canto vi., and that by Farinata of Dante's exile, Canto x., which Virgil had told should be made clear to him by Beatrice.

[2] The churl of Fiesole.

My Master then upon his right side turned himself back, and looked at me; then said, "He listens well who notes it."

Not the less for this do I go on speaking with Sir Brunetto, and I ask, who are his most known and most eminent companions. And he to me, "To know of some is good, of the others silence will be laudable for us, for the time would be short for so much speech. In brief, know that all were clerks, and great men of letters, and of great fame, defiled in the world with one same sin. Priscian goes along with that disconsolate crowd, and Francesco of Accorso;[1] and thou mightest also have seen, hadst thou had desire of such scurf, him who by the Servant of Servants was translated from Arno to Bacchiglione, where he left his ill-strained nerves.[2] Of more would I tell, but the going on and the speech cannot be longer, for I see yonder a new cloud rising from the sand. Folk come with whom I must not be. Let my Tesoro be commended to thee, in which I still am living, and more I ask not."

[1] Priscian, the famous grammarian of the sixth century; Francis of Accorso, a jurist of great repute, who taught at Oxford and at Bologna, and died in 1294.

[2] Andrea de Mozzi, bishop of Florence, translated by Boniface VIII. to Viceuza, near which the Bacchiglione runs. He died in 1296.

Then he turned back, and seemed of those who run at Verona for the green cloth[1] across the plain, and of these he seemed the one that wins, and not he that loses.

[1] The prize in the annual races at Verona.

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